Officials of the North Little Rock Wastewater Utility are giving high marks to the department’s new natural gas-powered truck and plans are in the works to make it the first of many.

Marc Wilkins, general manager of the city’s wastewater treatment utility, on Tuesday told the city’s wastewater utility board of commissioners that the city is on pace to save about $5,000 annually after the first year of converting the truck from a traditional gas-powered engine to natural-gas.

“I would say what the city paid we will get back in about a year and a half,” Wilkins said.

The city originally purchased the truck as a gasoline-powered unit, but officials decided to accept a 50-50 matching state grant to convert the vehicle to natural gas-powered, he said.

The bill to convert the trucks engine was about $11,600.

“The first month we saved $447, and the next month, in March (2012) we saved $415 in fuel costs,” Wilkins said. “In April, we saved $430 and in May $373.”

Wilkins said fuel costs have shrunk in recent times as the cost of gasoline has gone down. He added the effort to convert the engine to natural gas also was a good move because natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel than traditional gasoline.

He recently talked with a Conway company who expressed interest in converting the entire wastewater department fleet from gasoline to natural gas.

“I wanted to get a quote from him in having one of our other vehicles converted to natural gas, but I have not heard from him on a price yet,” Wilkins said.

Board member Ed Nelson said three major American vehicle manufacturers are planning to construct more natural gas-powered vehicles.

“The state is supposed to get a purchase contract on those,” Nelson said. “We might be able to get into the market for the regular purchase of a truck.”

The natural gas-powered truck fills up at the city-owned natural gas fueling station located along Curtis Sykes Drive in North Little Rock.

Wilkins said he gives the natural gas-powered truck high marks because it has not resulted in unanticipated repair and maintenance costs.

Nelson said he supports the city looking into the option of buying more natural gas-powered vehicles.

“They should be off the assembly line in the fall,” he said.

Wilkins said he also is very open to the idea of buying more natural gas-powered vehicles.

“Every vehicle we will purchase we will look at the economics of it,” he said.